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North Shore mother-daughter duo update classic guide to Minnesota State Parks

After writing four editions herself, Anne Arthur invited her daughter Signy Sherman to collaborate on the the latest.

A hand holding paperback "Minnesota State Parks" book in front of rocky background.
The fifth edition of "Minnesota State Parks" covers all 75 state parks and recreation areas.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — "My memory is a lot of car camping," said Signy Sherman. "I just remember spending the summers with Mom, going around and seeing the parks."

Sherman was about 10 years old, her mother, Anne Arthur, recalls, when Arthur began research for the 1998 first edition of her book, "Minnesota State Parks." That entailed traveling to 68 parks, but the legwork paid off: The book hasn't been out of print since.

A hand holds a paperback book open to a two-page spread on Grand Portage State Park, with photo of waterfall.
Grand Portage State Park is listed in the Northeast section of "Minnesota State Parks."
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

Arthur penned the first four editions herself, but when it came time to craft the newly published fifth edition, the Tofte resident decided to make it a family affair: She invited Sherman, now a teacher in Grand Marais, to become her co-author.

"I didn't realize quite how much work was in it until I actually started helping her," said Sherman, "and then I was like, yeah, this is a lot of work and a lot of time being spent on it, but it was also a great deal of fun."

Generously illustrated with maps and the authors' photos, "Minnesota State Parks" includes basic information and "Anne's Tips" on all 75 state parks and recreation areas, sorted into six geographic areas.

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t071317 --- Clint Austin --- 072317.N.DNT.SOUDAN.C05 ---Tour guide James Juip explains drilling to mine tour participants at Soudan Underground Mine State Park in Soudan Thursday aftenoon. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Tour guide James Juip explains drilling to mine tour participants at Soudan Underground Mine State Park in Soudan in 2017.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Arthur said she hopes the book helps readers find the right park for their interests. "Some of them are big fishing parks," she said. "Some are birdwatching parks, and then you've got Hill Annex and Tower-Soudan, where you've got the mines and that kind of thing. One of the recreation areas is for off-road vehicles."

"I went to the most northern park, and went down to one of the most southern parks," said Sherman, "and I saw a huge variety of landscapes and animals and options of what to do. I feel like you can find a park for just about any person."

A new National Geographic book by Stephanie Pearson is rooted in her childhood exploring Duluth's Hartley Park.

The authors said they've seen the parks' popularity rise, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Arthur believes that's a good thing.

"When I first did the book," she said, "people knew about the parks, but they weren't utilizing (the state park system) quite as much. Now, the parks are booked out for the whole year ... which is great, because (the park system) belongs to the taxpayers. It belongs to everybody out there."

Although certain campgrounds and hot spots get crowded, said Arthur, with a little research it's easy to find room to roam. "I tell people all the time that they should have a state park sticker," she said.

Gooseberry Falls
The water flows over the lower falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park in Two Harbors.
2005 file / Duluth News Tribune

"You know how crowded Gooseberry (Falls) can get?" she continued. "Everybody goes to the visitor center, the free spot, and you can't find a place to park. Well, if you had a park sticker, you could go down to the picnic area, which is down on the lake, and you'll be there with very few people, because nobody wants to spend the money to go in."

The park system is full of gems beyond the marquee names like Gooseberry, the authors pointed out.

"I love Savanna Portage," said Sherman. "It reminded me a lot of the Boundary Waters. ... I have every intention of going back there myself just as a visitor without writing the book."

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A boardwalk crosses a marsh on the Savanna Portage Trail in Savanna Portage State Park north of McGregor, Minnesota.
Clint Austin / 2021 file / Duluth News Tribune

"The beauty of that park is it's a large park," added Arthur. "They have multiple campgrounds, they have lots of different things spread out. So you don't necessarily get congested."

Arthur praised one of the system's newer additions: the Lake Vermilion area (part of a shared park with the Soudan Underground Mine), which the state purchased in 2010. "It's got great access to the lake," she said, "but it's also got some nice campgrounds and it's part of the whole Mesabi bike trail, so you could bike for hours and hours."

Lake Vermilion State park
Lake Vermilion is one of Minnesota's newest state parks.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR

Despite the surge in interest for certain areas, said Arthur, many of the state's parks remain underappreciated — including one that is very conveniently located for millions of Minnesotans.

"They have a beautiful state park right in the middle of the Twin Cities," she said. "That's Fort Snelling. They have a swimming area, they have great hiking, they're hooked onto a bike trail. They've got a beautiful visitor center and naturalist programs. It gets a lot of visitors, but for where it's located, I think (it's) underutilized."

Arthur said the original inspiration for the book came when she was working as a buyer for Barnes & Noble. "I was seeing all the books that were being presented," she said, "all these other regional books. I saw this one book come out for the state parks of Washington, and I thought, 'Well, what a good idea! Minnesota has fabulous state parks!'"

A blustery visit to Split Rock Lighthouse sparked Juliana Brandt's "Monsters in the Mist," set on an island that early explorers believed to exist.

Today, there are numerous books to aid people interested in the state's outdoor recreation opportunities, but Arthur's guide is the best-established general guide specifically focused on the state parks. Even in the smartphone era, she said, people still appreciate a print book.

"Maybe they keep it in their glove box," she said. "They've got the printed material, they don't have to worry about their their phone getting signals ... some of these parks are kind of out in the middle of nowhere."

While Northlanders may be familiar with the rocky shores and wooded hills of our area's parks, the authors point out that the state park system holds adventures galore for people willing to seek them out. There's Forestville/Mystery Cave in southeastern Minnesota, which has an abandoned 19th century town and, well, a Mystery Cave.

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The historic quarry at Blue Mounds State Park is accessible by easy hiking trails. It's also a popular spot for rock climbing.
John Myers / 2020 file / Duluth News Tribune

At Blue Mounds State Park in the state's southwestern corner, you can find prickly pear cactus. Cactus in Minnesota? Yes, you read that right. At Minneopa State Park, near Mankato, Sherman had a close encounter with a herd of large animals.

"They have this really cool bison enclosure, and you can actually take your car," she said. "I ended up in, like, a bison traffic jam. They were all over the road, so we were slowly driving behind. I was like, 'This is so much fun! I feel like I'm kind of on a safari in Minnesota.'"

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Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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